TABLE of CONTENTS
To Fellow Travelers
There may be a sense in which the Greek crisis is indeed our era’s Bolshevik Revolution or Spanish Civil War, namely that it has become the destination of choice for what we might call “political travel.”
After Ferguson: #BlackLivesMatter and the Legacy of Civil Rights
[Brandon M. Terry]
That the protestors in Ferguson were met with such an enthusiastic and imitative response across the country signals the thawing out of the black protest tradition and a rejection of more conciliatory and consensus-oriented conceptions of black politics. Once again, extraordinary effort is being devoted to building militant, independent social movements with organized African-American participation, capable of transcending the limits of conventional electoral politics and effectively channeling black rage and resentment.
Out of Good Reasons: Elena Ferrante Comes to America
Ferrante turns the dynamic we have grown used to on its head. Her narrators dream of independence but find their condition to be one of—often agonizing, insufferable—entanglement. Her readers will likewise feel as if they are being submerged in a sensibility for which detachment registers less as a fact of social life than as a fantasy of it.
Complications of Philosophy: Alain de Botton’s School of Life
I never thought it would be difficult to find something good in the School of Life. It is an attempt to connect philosophy—as well as art and high culture—with the lives of everyday people in a way that makes them better, more meaningful or more bearable. It is hardly inconceivable to me that philosophy could play such a role.
Fail Again: Welcome to the Failure Festival
[David J. Unger]
At one point, Beale lashes out at the audience. On her knees, she gathers tomato debris into her fists and holds it up in the air, scanning around in her blindfolded and tomato-stained goggles. The audience oohs in a low register, recognizing the threat and daring her to go through with it—not quite believing she actually will. She does. The tomatoes fly blindly out from her clenched fists and splat somewhere in the back. The spectator-performer dynamic has shifted, perhaps irrevocably. The perfect way into three nights of failure—play tinged with violence, on the verge of spiraling wildly out of control.
The Art of Decay
The time of decay lives outside of culture and history. It ignores human existence, but it doesn’t overawe it. It’s sublime, but in a minor key that lets in mortality and the quotidian. For some reason, those two things—death and trash—are precisely what we want from art as we move into a spotless, seamless digital future.
Symposium: What is Travel For?
Glancing at the useless guidebook on the night stand, the stubs of paper poking out marking what we were supposed to be doing, it felt a bit like the plot of a really depressing National Lampoon movie with only one joke in it. But my purpose here is not to complain about the rain. In fact, the impetus for writing this is that, on reflection, those were our best days. Something awfully dear had been paid by pocketbook and planet to get us all the way out here just to be rained on. But now I see that the rain, while it lasted, had protected us. I was irritated but more or less sound of mind.
Recently I read—sympathetically, even—an essay in Vice about how young humanities graduates are descending on London from the provinces and turning it into a safer, duller and ultimately more expensive city. I read these things for the same reason I persist in watching a bad football team each week: because despairing about home is better than disavowing it, and being angry about something you care about is preferable to losing touch with it altogether.
The Shuttle Era
Space used to signify pure tomorrow, an infinite frontier unrolling in all directions. Now, for those few who still nurse them, the arc of those daydreams has doubled back toward the past, bent by nostalgia. Having lost our appetite for firsts, what else is there to add to the mythos of American space exploration?
In 1979, Dr. Graziella Magherini, a psychologist at Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, coined the term “Stendhal syndrome” to describe a pattern of psychological abnormalities she and her staff observed in tourists treated in her ward. At historic sites across the city—particularly the significant museums and churches—tourists were experiencing symptoms ranging from minor physiological disturbances, including shortened breath and heart palpitations, to significant psychological distress manifesting in panic attacks and hallucinations.
[Joshua C. A. Cohen]
Going abroad to teach English is what has become of our parents’ mission trips. We do it a lot. Still, I don’t know anybody—not anybody I trust, I mean—who’s gone abroad truly itching to the give the gift of Business English.
Forward with Fukuyama
Fukuyama may still be proven wrong—after all, for his argument to be correct, it has to be correct forever, and the future lasts a long time. But on the most basic level, we still inhabit the ideological landscape that Fukuyama described a quarter century ago. The end of history hasn’t ended, yet.
[Carina del Valle Schorske]
Both my mother and father were heavily engaged in a religious community that promised nothing short of enlightenment, and my earliest picture book—What to Remember to Be Happy—was authored by their guru. I preferred Snow White and Rose Red, the mesmerizing tale of an ungrateful gnome and a girl who falls in love with a bear.
[Ian P. Beacock]
Gay Berlin draws our attention to a gay history that began long before Stonewall. Yet most startling of all is Beachy’s sweeping argument about the origins of modern sexuality itself. Our entire understanding of sexual identity, he contends, was invented by the Germans.
Doubting T.S. Eliot
My paper was so clever that I hardly understood it. “You must be very smart,” I wanted our school’s acclaimed visiting writer to tell me when we found ourselves standing next to each other. The acclaimed writer caught me off guard by what he actually said: “Do you believe in T. S. Eliot?” I didn’t understand the question, which meant, I realized later, that the answer had been yes.